One of my grandsons is becoming surrogate father to one or more House Sparrows. This is happening Thursday afternoon. The first of three eggs he has in his room under a heat lamp is so so slowly being pried open by a very tiny, very pink bird. In one other egg the occupant has poked a hole as it begins to hatch.
I would have bet a lot of money that this would not happen.
Four days ago, Cole, who is 12, and I were checking nest boxes on my bluebird trail. House Sparrows, non-native birds that out-compete bluebirds and Tree Swallows for nesting space, are not favorites of mine. When I find a nest in one of my boxes, perhaps once a season in 40 boxes, I pull the nest out, eggs and the messy nest falling to the ground, where I leave them.
Cole asked if he could have the eggs. “Sure, they’re yours.” It’s not often that anyone gets close looks at songbird eggs. Cole is an enthusiastic birder with a love of anything alive (or dead) and outdoors. So, he took the eggs.
“Can I have the nest?” he asked. My thoughts went to bird lice before I said yes. Why not? I had no idea that he would reconstruct the nest in a box in his bedroom, find a heat lamp, and incubate the eggs.
He called that night to tell me he had candled one of the eggs — not easy with a cream-colored egg blotched with brown — but, he said he saw the outline of a chick. He sounded excited.
These are bird lessons hard to find, and I was happy for him. He was going to be disappointed when the eggs didn’t hatch, but that’s a lesson, too.
Just after one o’clock today, Thursday afternoon, Cole’s sister Sophie called and said, “Grandpa, you have to come over and see Cole’s baby birds.”
And so I found three kids, ages 12, 8 and 6 huddling over this jury-rigged nursery, watching an incredibly small and delicate sparrow push against the shell, rest, push again, rest, that routine to continue for hours, I’m sure. You can’t buy this. I'm offering no help or direction, but will if he asks. Right now, Cole is using the Internet for answers. He is ready with meal worms as food. He has not given thought to fecal sacs, but he will.
I’ll report as this progresses. Whatever happens this will be unforgettable for these kids. And for me.
By the way, in case you wonder, Cole’s possession of eggs, nest, and now live birds is legal because House Sparrows, as non-native invasive species, are not protected. Unless you get too close to Cole’s babies.
Here is a photo of the chick making its initial appearance in the world. What you see in the opening is a wing. The eggs are about three-quarters of an inch in length. The second photo shows the bird after emerging from the egg, a process that tpok about two hours. It ate bits of meal worm an hour after that. In the second photo, the bird's head is pointed down, the end of its beak overlapping the egg on the left.